Activated Charcoal for Teeth Whitening – Does it Really Work?
So, you’ve heard people raving about using activated charcoal to whiten teeth and a whole load of other things. But does it really work, and how are you supposed to use it?
In the quest to make your teeth whiter, probably the last thing you’d think of is covering them in something black. Still, some people swear by this treatment as a natural way to get whiter teeth – and there’s a good scientific reason why it does work.
Keep reading to find out what’s so special about this type of charcoal and the different ways you can use it in your oral hygiene routine. We have also researched some of the best products available in the UK to take the confusion out of buying this at-home teeth whitener.
Table of contents
- 1 How does charcoal whiten teeth?
- 2 Using activated charcoal for teeth whitening
- 3 Powder
- 4 Toothpaste
- 5 Toothbrushes
- 6 Whitening strips
- 7 Activated charcoal whitening products comparison
- 8 Conclusion
How does charcoal whiten teeth?
First, let’s be clear that this is NOT the same stuff that’s left over after a bonfire or available in art shops.
Activated charcoal (also called activated carbon) has special properties because of the way it is produced. The activation process involves subjecting the charcoal to very high temperatures, either chemically or with steam. This creates tiny, low-volume pores throughout the material which give it a huge surface area.
Here you can the steps involved with making activated carbon from coconut shells:
Amazingly, just one gram of activated carbon has the surface area of more than 11 tennis courts, thanks to its complex structure.
This surface area lets the charcoal adsorb large amounts of other substances (meaning they stick to the surface of it). Inside your body it can whisk chemicals and toxins out of your system. And when applied to teeth, it encourages plaque, bacteria and other particles to cling to it so they are all rinsed off together.
Note that teeth-whitening charcoal can only remove stains from the surface of your teeth. These are often caused by deep coloured foods and drinks, including:
- red wine
- tomato sauces
Charcoal in any form won’t make your teeth whiter than they naturally are. If your teeth are naturally quite yellow or have become discoloured because of medication or a health condition, you’ll need to try another form of whitening.
Is it safe?
It’s completely safe to ingest small amounts of activated charcoal. It is commonly used to treat cases of poisoning as it is so good at absorbing toxins before they enter the blood stream. It also features on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines, so there should be no question over its safety.
Activated carbon is also used in a number of everyday products and processes such as water filters and the decaffeination of coffee. You probably make use of it every day without even realising.
When it comes to using it on teeth, some concerns have been raised about its abrasive nature. Charcoal is effective at removing surface stains on teeth, but there is also a risk it will erode enamel, too. Our tooth enamel can’t replenish itself, so it’s not a good idea to keep scratching away at it.
As tooth enamel thins, the yellower inner layer of dentin starts to show through. So ironically, teeth whitening with an abrasive method can eventually lead to teeth becoming yellower.
Dentists warn against overuse of whitening toothpastes for the same reason. But whereas traditional whitening toothpastes rely on brushing to be effective, charcoal pastes can “pull” some stains from the surface without brushing.
If you’re worried about charcoal damaging your tooth enamel, you can always just apply a paste to your teeth and leave it for a few minutes. Then rinse, and brush as normal with your regular toothpaste if you like. Alternatively, use a charcoal paste to brush just a few times a week.
If you notice your gums becoming sore, switch back to your normal toothpaste for a while until they have recovered. Then you can resume brushing with charcoal, but perhaps do it less often.
Charcoal toothpaste generally doesn’t contain added fluoride. Some people see this as a benefit as they want to avoid additives. But in actual fact, fluoride is added to most commercial toothpastes because it is effective at strengthening teeth and fighting decay. This is another good reason to alternate your charcoal toothpaste with a regular one.
You shouldn’t brush with charcoal if you have any open wounds or ulcers in your mouth. If in doubt, speak to your dentist for a medical opinion. Also check with your dentist before use if you have any teeth implants, veneers or dental crowns. The materials used in these may be less resistant to staining from charcoal.
It’s not safe to inhale the powder, so do be careful when you use it at home.
Using activated charcoal for teeth whitening
We’ve already established that you can’t just pick up a bag of charcoal from your local petrol station and start rubbing it on your teeth. You can buy medically safe activated charcoal in several different forms from health food shops and online.
- Powders (both loose and in capsule form)
- Whitening strips
The tablets are primarily intended for ingestion to treat internal problems. You can, in theory, grind them up and add water to form a paste – but there are much less time-consuming ways to get the same result. Here is a quick overview of some of the products available, how to use them, and how effective they are:
Activated charcoal powder for teeth comes in tins or jars of 60-80g which should last for several months. The fine powder can be mixed with water or other ingredients for brushing (more on this below). You can buy it raw – just charcoal powder – or as a pre-mixed powder which contains other ingredients to help with whitening, breath freshness, and so on.
The best powdered activated charcoal in the UK
One of the best raw powdered charcoals is LiveCoco’s Activated Charcoal Natural Teeth Whitener. This is made from coconut shells and has no other added ingredients or flavours. The raw charcoal itself is pretty much tasteless – it leaves no bad taste in your mouth as some people might expect.
Reviewers have commented that it works well at reducing bad breath and making teeth feel cleaner as well as lightening the shade of them. One tin contains 80g, which is bigger than most on the market and should last about 300 uses.
One word which crops up again and again in reviews is “messy” – but this is just the nature of using the powder raw. A helpful tip from one user is to do your makeup after using it, not before!
Alternatively, you can buy charcoal powder mixed with other dry ingredients.
Pro Teeth Whitening Co produces an all-natural powder which combines high-purity activated coconut shell charcoal with other ingredients such as clay and ginger root to offer additional benefits. It’s available in peppermint, spearmint and strawberry flavours. Judging by the reviews, the clear winner is peppermint, although you shouldn’t buy it for the taste alone.
Some users reported seeing a change after just two days’ use, whereas for others it took around a week to show any results. “I’m glad I found this natural alternative to teeth whitening. I’ve used it twice now and see a difference already” was one user’s comment.
It comes in a 60ml tin, with a warning to consult your dentist before use if you have a history of sensitive teeth or gums.
Another popular product with a different composition is from Laila London. This powder contains 100% natural and organic ingredients, including calcium carbonate which helps with tooth sensitivity and aids in re-building enamel.
It’s flavoured with peppermint, lemon, cinnamon and cloves, so has a slightly spicy taste. These ingredients also help keep bacteria levels low in your mouth.
Reviewers report generally good results, although some dislike the gritty texture and worry about it damaging their teeth and gums.
How to use it
The following steps explain how to brush teeth with activated charcoal powder:
- Hold your toothbrush under running water to clean it and get all the bristles wet.
- Tap or shake it so the bristles are damp but are not holding any excess water.
- Hold your tin of charcoal powder over the sink and also lean over so your mouth is over the sink (this is so that any spills are easy to clean up).
- Dip your toothbrush about a quarter of the way into the powder (you only need a little).
- Lightly brush your teeth for the time stated on the product packaging.
- Don’t be put off by your scary black mouth.
- Rinse thoroughly by brushing with water.
Alternatively, you can mix a small amount of powder and water together in a container to form a paste. In the following video you can see someone giving it a try for the first time:
A word of warning: although charcoal removes stains from your teeth, it will itself stain a lot of other things. Keep the powder away from things like clothing, carpets and tile grouting.
You can also buy powdered charcoal in individual capsules, suitable for ingestion. It’s possible to break one or two of these open to access the powder for brushing, as the girl in the video did. Some people find this less messy than using a tin, while others have problems with the powder going everywhere when they open the capsule.
If you use a pre-mixed toothpaste containing activated charcoal, teeth whitening becomes much less messy. You simply apply it to your toothbrush as you would with your regular toothpaste. Some people also prefer a toothpaste because of the familiar taste and texture.
Janina Ultra White Activated Charcoal Toothpaste is one such product which is popular in the UK. Its activated charcoal formula works on eliminating bad breath as well as stains from smoking and drinking coffee.
The manufacturers recommend using it twice a day for at least three minutes at a time. Several reviewers stress the importance of following these instructions if you want to see results. However, another user who experienced sensitivity said she dropped down to using it once a day, alternating with a regular sensitive toothpaste. She said the product has still “definitely made a good difference”.
There are some complaints about the taste being strong and chemically, but overall people seem pleased with their results. Its also designed for minimal abrasiveness on teeth.
Homemade charcoal toothpaste
If you want the convenience of a toothpaste but prefer to make it yourself, you can buy powdered activated charcoal and mix your own toothpaste in batches.
You can form a thick paste with the powder and water, but some people prefer to use coconut oil because of its anti-bacterial properties. Store the paste in a small tin or airtight container for a week or two.
There are other ingredients you can use to make a natural homemade toothpaste – check out our article with natural toothpaste recipes to find out more.
Charcoal toothbrushes are not actually made from the mineral itself, but the bristles are infused with it. The brush therefore takes on some of the adsorption properties to pull bacteria and plaque from your teeth.
There is no scientific evidence to show that these toothbrushes are more effective at cleaning and whitening, especially over time. Still, there is certainly no harm in using one to supplement your charcoal toothpaste or powder.
Another way to use activated charcoal to whiten teeth is with whitening strips. They are not the most effective way to whiten teeth but they do have their place.
Whereas traditional whitening strips contain peroxide, some varieties use the stain-removing properties of charcoal. This makes them a gentler way to achieve results, especially if you have sensitive teeth.
Y.F.M’s teeth whitening strips contain nano bamboo charcoal technology to lighten teeth. They come in a pack of 14 and the manufacturer recommends two 30-minute treatments each day. However, some reviewers use just one set of strips a day and still notice a difference.
“Brilliant! I’ve tried loads of different products like this before but this does what it says on the box! Two days in & my teeth are looking whiter. No sensitivity either.
Will definitely buy again.” says one user.
You get a shade chart included so you can track your whitening progress. The strips can remove surface stains but any whitening effects will probably lessen when you stop using them. Another option is to just use a set whenever you want to give your teeth a boost, for example for a special event.
Activated charcoal whitening products comparison
Below you’ll find a table to summarise and compare all the products we’ve discussed in this article.
|Raw powder||Powder blend||Toothpaste||Whitening strips|
|Recommended brand||LiveCoco||Pro Teeth Whitening Co||Janina Ultra White||Y.F.M|
|Unit size||80g||60ml||75ml||14 sets|
|Pros||No taste; pure charcoal powder; good results||Good results; reasonable taste; all natural||Freshens breath, low abrasivity||Good for quick results|
|Cons||Messy/difficult to use||Messy/difficult to use||May cause sensitivity, some complaints about taste||Not long-lasting, messy to clean off|
You can use activated charcoal on your teeth in the form of a powder, toothpaste, or strip. There are benefits and drawbacks to each of these products, so experiment to see what works best for you.
Keep in mind that that the only way to get your teeth whiter than their natural shade is with tooth bleaching. This needn’t be expensive though – many home whitening kits produce good results.
Above all, remember that the best way to keep your teeth clean and healthy is to visit your dentist and hygienist regularly. If you have any underlying oral health issues, any whitening treatment may aggravate them and cause pain or sensitivity.